History has many dark secrets that some have wished remained hidden from the official record so that the history that has been portrayed remains sanitized and above reproach. But it is also said that what you do in the dark always comes to light. In the wake of the coup that saw the overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende (1908-1973) on September 11, 1973, the country was placed in a vice grip by his successor, Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006), who commenced a program of retribution against enemies, activist and those “suspected” of being part of the opposition to the new government. His regime was marred by human rights violations for which he was arrested by British Police in England on October 17, 1998. Pinochet was extradited back to his native Chile but never stood trial for his actions. He died on December 10, 2006 of congestive heart failure and pulmonary edema. His death marked the end of legal action to bring him to justice but it did not stop the prosecution of others who were complicit in the horrific actions that took place in the aftermath of the coup. Researchers continued to investigate Pinochet’s actions and those of fellow dictators in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. During one such expedition in Paraguay, a trove of documents were uncovered that shed light on a joint program created by several neighboring countries to track down those deemed enemies of the state with the purpose of execution. The program is known as Operation Condor and here Charles River Editors provides a concise summary of how and why the program came into existence.
For those who are unfamiliar with Operation Condor, the book’s contents may come as a significant shock. I think readers may benefit from also taking a look at Peter Kornbluh’s ‘‘The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability‘, which provides a detailed explanation of Pinochet’s rise to power and the crimes against humanity that occurred under his reign. It is not necessary to read that book in order to enjoy this one but Kornbluh’s book is complemented by what is found here. And while Kornbluh’s book focuses mainly on Pinochet, this book is centered on Operation Condor itself. To set the stage for the gritty details of the operation, the author explains the dictatorships that were found in the nations that formed Operation Condor. A brief explanation of the regimes of Argentina’s Juan Perón (1895-1974) and Paraguay’s Alfredo Stroessner (1912-2006) and provided as examples. The two rulers are just a sample of the many dictatorships that became common to Latin American during the 1960s and 1970s as the term “the disappeared” became part of the Latin American lexicon.
This book is dark and the descriptions of actions carried out by operatives of the program may be tough for some readers to accept. The actions of American operative Michael Townley and the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) are also discussed and sheds light on a very dark time in United States foreign policy as Washington courted and accepted right-wing tyrants determined to keep their nations classified as banana republics. Power, greed and violence were the trifecta that spread fear and mayhem across several continents as political opponents and voices against the government were murdered in cold blood sometimes on foreign soil. Pinochet remained firmly at the center and his intelligence apparatus Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (“DINA”) served as nucleus for the death sowed as operatives spared no expense or destination to carry out acts of violence. The attacks were brazen and shocking, and caused Washington to finally take notice. Undoubtedly, there are many more secrets buried in files locked tightly away in the archives of several countries. But the truth about Operation Condor remains public for the world to see.
We have heard the saying that the past is prologue. Latin America has been plagued by dictatorships, fraudulent elections, corruption and murder. It remains to be seen if the region that is full of beautiful scenery, people and cultures will move forward and correct the wrongs that have been done in the past. As it does, it remains critical to remember the dark legacy of Augusto Pinochet and Operation Condor.